The Streak Comes To An End
The Streak Comes To An End
Two spectacular plays by an underrated third baseman, a bad hop at short, two pitchers who combined for just 21 victories in 1941 and even a taxi cab driver were responsible for the end of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in Cleveland on July 17.
The third baseman was Kenny Keltner. The bad-hop grounder was handled perfectly by shortstop Lou Boudreau. The two pitchers were veteran lefty Al Smith and young righty Jim Bagby, who posted records of 12-13 and 9-15, respectively, in 1941.
The name of the taxi cab driver remains unknown, but he picked up DiMaggio and his Yankee roommate, pitcher Lefty Gomez, for the ride to Cleveland s Municipal Stadium. The cabbie, who recognized 'The Yankee Clipper, turned to DiMaggio and said he had a hunch the hitting streak would be halted that evening at 56. DiMaggio ignored the cabbie, but Gomez, the Yankees starting pitcher that night, verbally blasted him, saying, You are full of bunk Sitting at a stop light, Gomez quickly ushered DiMaggio out of the cab and the two walked the rest of the way to the stadium.
DiMaggio and the cabbie met again more than 30 years later. He apologized and he was serious, Joe said. I felt awful. He apparently spent his whole life thinking he really jinxed me. I told him he had not. My number was just up that night.
A crowd of nearly 70,000 jammed Municipal Stadium that night to see if Joe could extend his streak to 57.
In the first inning against Indian starter Smith, DiMaggio ripped a 1-0 pitch past third base, but Keltner, playing deep and guarding the line, backhanded the ball and made a perfect throw to first for the out.
DiMaggio walked in the fourth. In the seventh against Bagby, Joe again hit a shot to third, but again Keltner was there and threw the bewildered DiMaggio out by a half step.
When Joe came up in the eighth, the bases were loaded and the count stood at 1-1, recalled Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, who watched the drama unfold from the Cleveland dugout that night.
A lot of people forget what happened, Feller continued. Joe hit a wicked grounder to Boudreau at short, but at the very last second, the ball took a bad bounce, but Lou barehanded the ball and tossed it to our second baseman, Ray Mack, to start a double-play.
Joe showed absolutely no emotions going back to the dugout, Feller recalled. He ran out every ball very hard that night. He knew the streak was over.
But hold on! Going into the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees held a 4-1 lead, but Gomez got into trouble and the Indians closed the count to 4-3, thanks to a two-run triple by pinch-hitter Larry Rosenthal, a .209 hitter.
Had Rosenthal been a little faster, he may have scored to tie the game, Feller recalled.
With the tying run standing 90-feet from home and no outs, Yankee skipper Joe McCarthy went to the bull pen and brought in righty Johnny Murphy, who saved a league-leading 15 games and posted a 1.98 earned-run-average that season.
Up to the plate came .294 hitter Hal Trosky, a lefty. If Trosky could have knocked the ball through the drawn-in Yankee infield, the Indians could have tied the game, possibly giving DiMaggio another at-bat in the 10th. Trosky, however, grounded out to first.
With Rosenthal still at third, lefty Clarence Campbell, a .250 hitter, pinch-hit for Bagby. Campbell hit a hard grounder to the mound, where Murphy knocked the ball down, then caught Rosenthal in a run-down between third and home for the second out. Campbell, meanwhile, stayed at first and made no attempt to advance to second base during the run-down play.
With two outs, the Indians lead-off hitter, lefty Roy Weatherly (.289), was DiMaggio s last hope for another at-bat in the 10th. Yankee first baseman Johnny Sturm was holding base-runner Campbell at first. Weatherly hit a sharp grounder right at Sturm, who fielded the ball cleanly and stepped on first to end the game. Had Sturm been playing off the first-base bag, Weatherly s hit would have rolled down the right-field line and Campbell would have probably scored to tie the game at 4.
The Streak was over at 56, but DiMaggio started another hitting streak of 16 games the next night. Had he hit safely in Game 57, Joe would have extended his streak to 73. That 16-game streak was halted on Aug. 3 at Yankee Stadium in a 2-0 loss to the St. Louis Browns.
During Joe s streak, there were a few questionable calls, Feller said. ,He was given the benefit of the doubt by the official scorers on plays that could have been ruled errors. But Joe’s streak was good for baseball. People talked about it all the time and it put people in the stands.
Two hit balls by DiMaggio stood out as questionable calls. On June 17 (Game 30) at home against the White Sox, Joe hit a grounder to shortstop Luke Appling. The ball took a weird bounce and hit Appling in the shoulder. Official scorekeeper Dan Daniel, a friend of DiMaggio s, ruled it a hit.
On the very next day (Game 31), Appling bobbled a grounder by a hitless DiMaggio in the seventh. Daniel again scored it a hit, which raised quite a few eyebrows.
The star of the game on July 17 in Cleveland, though, was Keltner, who received a police escort following the contest due to the many DiMaggio fans in the stands that night.
My own fans booed me, Keltner recalled. They wanted Joe s streak to continue.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Keltner was a seven-time All-Star during his 13 seasons, 12 with the Indians (1937-44, 1946-49) and one with Boston (1950). A native of Milwaukee, the right-handed swinger had a career batting average of .276 with 163 homers and 852 RBIs. He averaged only 13 errors per season and participated in 306 double-plays, while posting a .965 fielding percentage.
Kenny was by far one of the top third basemen during the 1940s, former Red Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky said. He was a vacuum cleaner. He had great range, and a strong and accurate arm. I was not in the majors in 1941, but when I joined the Red Sox in 1942, I got a first-hand look at Kenny and he was definitely one of the best. And he was such a wonderful person.
Years later, DiMaggio asked Keltner why he played so deep and hugged the third-base line that night, almost to the point where the third baseman was playing a short left field. Keltner s reply: I knew you weren't going to bunt and I covered the line to stop an extra-base hit.
Keltner passed away in 1991 at the age of 75 in New Berlin, WI.
For DiMaggio, the streak was a true-life drama every day.
The pressure of getting a hit in 56 straight games must have been unbearable, former Red Sox second baseman and Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr said. Just think of it.
DiMaggio s personal diary states that. If I thought this would be taking place, I would have stopped the hitting streak at 40, DiMaggio wrote, referring to the pressure and attention The Streak was given on a daily basis by the media.
Gomez, said, Nothing seemed to be bothering him (during The Streak), but he must have been dying inside.
When his streak ended that night in Cleveland, Feller said, it didn’t appear to be that big of a deal to him. Maybe he was relieved it was over. He showed no emotion.
Others, including his late brother, Dom of the Red Sox, said, Joe was upset when The Streak ended.
The Streak started on May 15 with a harmless single at Yankee Stadium during a 13-1 loss to the White Sox. Ironically, on the same day, his rival and good friend Ted Williams started a 23-game hitting streak at Fenway Park in a 6-4 loss to the Indians. That 23-game streak, which ended June 8 in a 5-3 win against the White Sox, helped propel Williams to his .406 batting average that season.
When the two streaks started, Williams was hitting .339, Joe .304. During the parallel 23-game streaks, Williams went 43-for-88 for a .487 average, DiMaggio 32-for-87, a .368 clip.
DiMaggio had a few close calls. On May 24, for example, a hitless DiMaggio approached the batter’s box in the seventh inning with two outs and runners on second and third. With the Red Sox clinging to a 6-5 lead, Boston Manager Joe Cronin decided to pitch to DiMaggio instead of intentionally walking him. Sure enough, DiMaggio came through, lining a game-winning single to left off southpaw Earl Johnson. Had Cronin walked DiMaggio, the streak would have ended at nine games.
In another game, DiMaggio was scheduled to hit fourth in the eighth inning during a lopsided Yankee win. With one out and a runner on first, Tommy Henrich stepped to the plate. To avoid possibly grounding into a double-play, Henrich received permission from Manager McCarthy to drop down a bunt so DiMaggio would get one last turn at the plate. Sure enough, DiMaggio came through with a single.
When The Streak did end in Cleveland, DiMaggio asked teammate and shortstop Phil Rizzuto to wait for him so the two could walk back to the hotel together. Once the two reached the hotel, Joe, who had left his wallet in his room, asked Phil for some cash. Rizzuto recalled that he had $18. DiMaggio took the money, sent Rizzuto to his room and sat in a bar drinking with strangers.By John Valerino
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- Al Smith, Bob Feller, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland League Park, Dan Daniel, Hal Trosky, Jim Bagby, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Sturm, Ken Keltner, Larry Rosenthal, Lefty Gomez, Longest Hitting Streaks, Lou Boudreau, Luke Appling, Municipal Stadium I, New York Yankees, Phil Rizzuto, Roy Weatherly, The Yankee Clipper